Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Star Ferry, Hong Kong

As today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the retrocession of Hong Kong to China, here is a sign from this former outpost of the British empire. Found on the Tsim Sha Tsui piers for the Star Ferry, it is neither very elaborate nor that old (it is even certainly repainted regularly) but at least it promotes what is not only an essential service to tens of thousands of commuters every day but also one of Hong Kong's icons.

The "Star" Ferry
Hong Kong
Central, Wanchai

The Kowloon Ferry Company was founded in 1888 by Dorabjee Nowrajee, a successful Parsi who owned several businesses and the King Edward Hotel in the Central district of Hong Kong Island but lived in Kowloon. Its first two boats were christened Evening Star and Rising Star, after Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Crossing the Bar. For the first years the vessels crossed Victoria Harbour at irregular intervals and did not sail on Mondays and Fridays, when they were withdrawn for coaling. However, as the population of Kowloon began to grow rapidly from the early 1890s onward, Nowrajee decided to purchase two more boats, Morning Star and Guiding Star, and to operate a scheduled service, offering 147 crossings a day. For as long as Nowrajee remained in charge, Parsi and Indians could travel for free whereas Chinese and Europeans had to pay. In 1898, after ten years, Nowrajee retired and sold his ferry service to Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf, a company co-founded by Armenian businessman Sir Catchick Paul Chater. In May that year it became the Star Ferry Company Ltd.
In 1923 in order to shorten journey times the company introduced its first double-ended vessels, a design upon which present-day ferries are still based. Diesel-electric vessels started replacing steamboats in 1933, following the launch of Electric Star.
Major disruptions to the service occured during the 1925 general strike and the Second World War. In 1925 the Royal Navy eventually took over the Star Ferry over, but commuters complained its personel was ill-prepared (especially as sailors tried rather vainly to preserve their immaculate white uniforms) and the Navy's discipline prevented it from running a quick, efficient and smooth service. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the Japanese took over the Star Ferry and used its vessels for their own goals, including the transportation of prisoners of war. Since then, typhoons have been the only threats to the service.
Prices on the Star Ferry have been traditionally rather low, and are still nowadays amongst the lowest in the world for such a service. Yet when they went up by twenty-five per cent in 1966 they triggered a wave of protests and demonstrations that culminated with several days of rioting, during which one person was killed, dozens injured and around 1,800 arrested.
Today the Star Ferry has a fleet of twelve vessels to operate its four routes linking Central and Wanchai on Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui and Hung Hom on the continent.

Location: Star Ferry piers, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong / Picture taken on: 20/09/2009

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